My tennis shoes thumped on the sidewalk and I stretched my arms, feeling the Colorado sun warm my body that had been stuck in office air conditioning all morning. I glanced up at the blue sky as I walked. “God?” I prayed silently. “What’s next?”
It wasn’t like I was discontent — far from it. In the past two years, I had moved 700 miles from home, started my first full-time job, graduated college, met and married my husband, and landed a promotion at work. At 24, I was happy, and exactly where I wanted to be in life. But even with all of these “successes” behind me, one question still lingered in the back of my mind: God, am I doing enough for You?
A few days later, a friend of mine, also in her 20s, expressed similar thoughts. “God has given me so much,” she explained, “and here I am — single, working a part-time customer service job, and living with my parents. Nothing I’m doing right now really matters. I feel like God is so disappointed in me.”
I thought about her words as I drove home that night. My friend seemed to think that once she got married, moved out, and found a full-time job, she would stop feeling the sense of restless guilt. But here I was, on the other side of those milestones, still feeling like I was somehow failing God. Like my small, ordinary life didn’t contribute much. That I too wasn’t doing anything that really mattered.
Comparing my life to Jesus’
I sat on my bed and pulled out my Bible. As I opened to my bookmarked spot in Luke, my eyes fell on a verse I hadn’t really noticed before. “Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age…” (Luke 3:23).
I circled that age and then set my pen down. Hmm. 30. And for the first time, I started to consider something I hadn’t before. I wonder what Jesus did in His 20s.
I started flipping through the Gospels, scanning the different accounts of Jesus’ life. I flipped and flipped, looking for any indication of how Jesus spent His first 30 years.
There wasn’t much.
Of course, there’s the account of Jesus’ bizarrely beautiful birth. There’s the story about Him getting separated from His parents when He was 12 and preaching in the temple. There’s the verse that tells us He “increased in wisdom and stature.” But as for any clues to what He did as a 20-something, there was nothing.
I bit my lip and stared out the window at the streetlights. “God?” I prayed again, this time in a whisper. “I wish I knew what Jesus did in His 20s. It would help me know what I should be doing.”
An idea popped into my head.
I picked up my phone and Googled “What did Jesus do in his 20s?” And there it was. Historians believe that Jesus spent the unrecorded years of His life in His hometown, working with His dad as a carpenter.
I picked up my Bible again, and as I dug in, clues started jumping up all over the place.
In Luke 4, Jesus goes to the synagogue and reads a prophecy from Isaiah. When He finishes, it sounds like the people in the synagogue just stand there with their mouths open. Not because of what He says, but because of who He is.
“Isn’t that Joseph’s son?” they ask each other. They seem surprised that Joseph’s son amounted to anything. They had obviously never looked at young Jesus and thought, Hmm. That kid will do great things someday.
As I stared at the gap on the page — the place in my Bible where Jesus’ life between ages 12 and 30 would have been recorded — I was surprised to feel tears sting my eyes. Jesus lived the most important life of any of us. He literally saved the world. But for more than 99 percent of His precious, short life, He lived under the radar. Working as a carpenter. Why would God do that?
I started flipping pages again, and the answer soon became clear. Sure, Jesus was fully God, but He was also fully man. That meant He fully lived the human experience: its joys, sorrows, temptations — and even the bland ordinariness of average, seemingly inconsequential days. Moreover, all of the amazing characteristics reflected in Jesus in His 30s — a good friend, a compassionate helper, a kindhearted servant, and a deep relationship with the Father — must be a reflection of how he spent his 20s.
As evidenced by Scripture, here are six things Jesus must have done in His 20s:
1. He studied and memorized Scripture.
When Jesus is in the wilderness — exhausted, hungry, alone and vulnerable, Satan uses the opportunity to attack and tempt Jesus to question His identity. Jesus quotes Scripture in defense. Jesus’ years as a student of the Law is apparent here. He dedicated himself early on to a knowledge and application of the truth, just as I must now.
2. He made a habit of quiet time with God.
Throughout the few years of His recorded life, we see Jesus repeatedly retreat from everyone else to pray. I don’t know about you, but if I’m not intentional about my time with God, it doesn’t really happen. Life gets busy. Jesus was busy, too. But it’s obvious He prioritized communing with the Father long before his public ministry started — and that included His 20s.
3. He stayed home.
When Jesus first reads the prophecy I mentioned above, He’s in His hometown at the synagogue, and we learn it “was His custom” to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath. When Jesus is on the cross in His last horrible moments of life, the sign reads “Jesus of Nazareth” (hardly the ancient equivalent of New York, Paris or Tokyo). Even if you count all the places Jesus traveled in His life, it was a very small area compared to the entire world. In short, Jesus didn’t go backpacking across the world. He didn’t chase experiences. He didn’t have a bucket list. He lived his 20s in a quiet and very small-town way.
4. He spent a lot of time with His parents.
Jesus learned his carpenter trade from His dad and continued to work with him well into adulthood. When He does His first recorded miracle at the wedding in Cana, He’s there with his mom. On the cross, He transfers care of His mom to John, indicating their close bond. Jesus lived with, worked with, and wasn’t ashamed to be with his parents.
5. He worked an ordinary blue-collar job and did “life” stuff.
Jesus is referred to as ”the carpenter’s son” (Matthew 13:55). What’s more, tradition indicates that Joseph died a few years before Jesus’ public ministry. Jesus likely took over His dad’s business, managed the bills, and helped His mom run the household.
6. He built relationships.
The older I get, the more it becomes clear that friendship is a skill just like anything else. It takes practice to know how to relate to people and navigate inevitable conflict. Jesus had His share of detractors. Even His own brothers didn’t believe in Him at first (John 7:3-5). Yet He “grew in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52), so He clearly had friends and practiced relationship skills over the years.
I stopped writing, sat back on the couch, and looked out the window. Jesus’ life before the age of 30 — at least what we know of it — could best be described in one word: ordinary.
Why are we afraid to be ordinary?
If a mostly “ordinary” life was enough for the Son of God, why am I (and most of my 20-something friends) so convinced that we need to be something more than ordinary to please God, others, and — if we’re honest — ourselves?
Here’s what I think happened. For the most part, the generation that raised us played it safe, and maybe looking back, now has some regrets. Our parents, crazy about us, didn’t want us to miss anything in life, so we were encouraged to get degrees, find good jobs, and backpack across the world because “you’ll never be able to do that again once you settle down.”
We heard about people in their 20s (and younger) doing amazing things. Writing books. Starting nonprofits. People like Katie Davis Majors, who went to Africa at age 18 to adopt 12 girls and start an orphanage. In her book “Kisses From Katie,” she says that staying in her hometown, getting a “regular” job and getting married would have brought her “complacency, comfort and ignorance.”
I understand Katie’s point. And I’m not questioning that she is doing what God called her to do. But as someone who is currently working a “regular” job and building a family, I’d argue that my life breeds anything but complacency, comfort and ignorance.
Being married has been wonderful, but it’s also opened my eyes to my own selfishness, which daily makes me squirm. I love my coworkers, but hearing about their lives reminds me that many of them deal with unspeakable pain every day. My job is great, but the daily grind forces me to lean into God to stay focused and diligent. And I have great parents and in-laws, but merging our families has taught me that everyday relationships are sometimes the most difficult things on earth to navigate.
Recently the coronavirus has forced us all into a more ordinary life than we ever expected. So let me invite you — lean into the ordinary. As you work from home, cycle through the same few recipes, and watch the same church service online, the ordinary will begin to surprise you. I promise, if you’re connected with God in day to day life, the ordinary is filled with refining moments, heart-bursting joy, real courage, and most of all — a deep sense of purpose. You’ll realize that “ordinary” life is full of gritty, difficult, stretching and beautiful moments — and most definitely “counts” in God’s book.
Let’s be like Jesus in His 20s. Let’s embrace the ordinary, knowing that this is the good stuff. This is where real life is. And remember that when God spoke from heaven and said to Jesus, “You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased,” it wasn’t after Jesus had performed miracles, preached the Sermon on the Mount, or died on the cross. It was after Jesus had faithfully lived 30 largely unrecorded years. Years that, in light of eternity, were anything but ordinary.
Copyright 2020 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved.